An Occupational phenomenon.

‘A syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’

WHO ICD-11 ‘May 2019

Burnout is characterized by three dimensions;


  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout is the prolonged exposure to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job, left unsupported it can impair the Social Workers professional capacityProfessional intervention is required to support recovery and a return to effective Practice – or we can seek to prevent it getting that far in the first place.

Available research indicates that Social Workers may face higher rates of Burnout than comparable occupations. For many Social Workers it is the tension between philosophy, organisational constraints and work demands that causes personal stress. The nature of Social Work practice alone makes the practitioner vulnerable.

Until recently Burnout was not recognised as a ‘condition’ and whilst the WHO have identified it as an occupational Phenomenon it is not classed as an illness or health condition. Whilst this has merits in keeping open supports wider than a ‘medical’ response it does mean that for many the recognition of reaching and suffering from Burnout comes in the form of an associated medical diagnosis such as depression, anxiety and chronic stress.

Moral Distress, Moral residue and Vicarious trauma can all contribute to the Social Workers impacted wellbeing and are key elements in the emergence of burnout. It is not an isolated incident that causes the Social Worker to burnout, as we have said it is the prolonged exposure to stressors and a lack of appropriate support and resources to respond to these effectively.